5 ways to ensure transgender patients are treated with respect

A medical journal article detailing how a transgender patient was treated like a "freak show" in a U.S. emergency department has prompted the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) to call on its members to show sensitivity and respect for transgender patients.

The article, published in the Journal of Emergency Nursing, recounted the case of a patient whose medical records identified him as female but who had transitioned to male five years earlier using hormone replacement therapy. He said he was humiliated and felt like a "spectacle" as a large group of staff loudly debated his gender "to draw attention to the fact that my outward appearance didn't match" his records.

Although a nurse later apologized, "this patient's story identifies new implications for emergency nursing practice when treating a transgender patient," ENA president Matthew F. Powers said in an announcement. "All patients must be treated with dignity and respect. We want nurses and their ED colleagues to understand how to give these patients the care and respect they deserve."

Powers said his organization supports implementing best practices outlined in the article, as well as additional research into transgender emergency care.

Those best practices include:

  1. Asking patients how they would like to be addressed
  2. Using the pronouns reflecting the gender with which they identify
  3. Asking only clinically relevant questions
  4. Being sensitive to shared spaces
  5. Leading by example, showing respect to all patients regardless of how they identify themselves and stepping in to defuse any insensitivity shown by others

The patient's experience wasn't an isolated incident. A Boston-area transgender advocacy group recently created a directory, TransRecord.com, rating providers by knowledge and nondiscriminatory practices toward transgender and gender-fluid patients.

Many doctors are interested in learning more, though. A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health showed that 80 percent of U.S. academic faculty practices surveyed indicated they would like to actively address a lack of policies to identify LGBT-competent physicians and to train their teams to improve competency in treating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender patients.

For more:
- here's the study abstract
- read the ENA announcement
- see the LGBT-competency study abstract